I normally do not write about current events in this series, but this is actually related to experiences that I had when I was little. Many of you who read this regular series are familiar with the people to whom I refer to as The Girl and The Little Girl, two people extremely dear to me.
The Girl is 19, and her beautiful daughter is three. Their family had two cats, Bella (whom I call Lal after the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Offspring" where Data named the android that he created that from the Hindi word for "beloved"), and Jace. Jace was a tom Tabby (actually more likely a Maine Coon Cat) who both girls lived dearly.
The girls were out of town Friday when I got a call from The Girl's mum asking me to come and pick up Jace's body from the street in front of their house. He had been run over by a car, and by the looks of things died instantly because of massive head trauma. I do not think that he was even aware that his demise was in progress.
The Girl got word of it and called me a little before 10 AM Friday morning, sobbing. She asked me to take care of Jace, and I told her that we were already on it. Her cousin dug the grave and did the actual burial after I had collected his remains from the street. The Little Girl cried for hours according to The Girl. Sunday night after returning home The Girl, after The Little Girl had gone to bed, sat at his gravesite and mourned him, and then called me and asked me to come over and talk with her. We cried together until almost midnight, comforting each other. You see, Jace was my friend as well.
However, this piece is not intended to be a sad one, but it was necessary to explain what happened to set up what is to be a celebration of his life and to thank him for the joy that he brought all of us. In addition, it is a very common childhood experience to lose a beloved pet, and I shall expound on that near the end of the piece.
Jace was a big cat to be as young as he was. He was only about a year and a half old, but weighed probably 12 to 14 pounds. He was really fluffy. I actually used a picture of him as a stand in for my childhood cat, Lucy, because of the uncanny resemblance betwixt the two. Here is a link to that piece.
The Girl got Jace right around the time that The Little Girl turned two. That made him about a year and a half old at his demise, as I said previously. Both of them took to the kitten immediately, and Jace was the calmest cat that I have ever seen. The Little Girl was not actually mean to him, but most of you know how two year olds can behave. Multiply that by a factor of ten and you get the idea of the activity level of The Little Girl. She is the most energetic little one that I have ever seen, and just keeps going and going. Thus, Jace got a lot of attention, if you know what I mean. She would carry him (actually, more like manhandle him) around all over the place, and he, to my knowledge, never bit or scratched her. She can get pretty physical!
This is going to be sort of reverse chronological in approach, because I was not buddies with Jace until fairly recently for a number of reasons into which are not germane to the story. He and I played when I visited next door, and he would often come to see me by himself late last summer. I would give him some meat scraps or somesuch, and he enjoyed them. He really liked sardine cans with the oil or sauce remains, but I would give him turkey, ham, or whatever meat scraps that I had.
It got to the point where all I had to do was open the door and shout "Jace!" a couple of times and there he was. Sometimes he just wanted petting, sometimes food, and sometimes he wanted to play. One of his favorite games was to chase the spot that my laser pointer would project on my driveway. He would chase it and practically do flips when I would rapidly change the direction of the spot! We would play like that until he got too tired to chase it any more. Since this was at night, The Girl and I often would play with him that way and laugh since The Little Girl was in the bed. The Girl and I spent many hours laughing and playing with him.
When it turned off cold late last fall, The Girl expressed concern that he would get hypothermia and become ill or even die since he was an outside cat. I offered to let him sleep inside my house on nights that the temperatures were below freezing, or a bit warmer if it were raining. She supplied me with a cat bed and a dual food and water bowl, and even the cat food. I faithfully kept him in my house each and every night like that.
That cat could eat! I would feed him a couple of hours before bedtime, then put him outside to "do his business" before allowing him in for good. Only once did he soil my house, and he had the decency to use a moving pad that I had folded in the spare room where his bed and bowl was, so it was easy to clean up after him. He did that only once, and he stayed with me lots of nights.
He soon stopped using his cat bed. He found that he preferred to sleep on my chest on my waterbed! I normally sleep on my back, and he found the warm, soft comforter betwixt him and me irresistible. That reminded me of how Lucy would sleep on me when I was little that I had many nostalgic moments. I relegated his cat bed to my sheltered front porch, where he could sleep on cold days in comfort. Before my bedtime, he would choose one of two places to rest, either my rocking chair or my sofa. Here are some select pictures of Jace that I took betwixt last fall and this spring.
Here are a couple of him on my couch. He seems pretty comfortable.
And here are a couple of him on my rocking chair. He would stay in my living room until I went to bed, then come with me.
The Girl emailed me some of her favorite pictures of him and asked me to include them in this piece. The first one is The Girl holding him in front of her face.
Here is a picture of The Little Girl holding him not long after they got him.
This one is just a sort of nondescript one.
Finally, her favorite one is this one.
I think that it is important for children to have pets. Pets have several life lessons to give children, like learning to care for something emotionally other than parents, learning to take care of something that depends on you, and learning that sometimes beloved things die. I do not mean to sound morbid about that, but the natural order of things is for children to outlive their parents. I believe that through the agency of pets, most of which have relatively short lives in human terms, children are taught to cope with grief before a beloved person dies.
But this story has a happy ending. Monday afternoon, whilst The Little Girl was visiting her aunt for an overnight stay, The Girl and I got word that there were kittens available just down the street. We went to investigate and found this one. Sorry about the blurry picture, but better ones are to follow.
The Girl was delighted! I had not seen her that happy since Jace was killed, and she fell in love with this kitten (a male) at first sight. I must admit that there is a very strong resemblance betwixt this kitten and the kitten pictures of Jace. That might not be accidental, since Jace has been sexually mature long enough to have kittens that age, and we are talking only four houses down from hers.
We took him back to her house and she doted on him. We watered him, fed him, and played with him until he was worn out from the activity. We put him in a carrier with food and water and after The Girl cut my hair (it was really late in the evening), I took him home to stay with me overnight, because we wanted to surprise The Little Girl the next morning.
Tuesday morning The Girl called me and asked if the kitten were awake, and he was. I took him over there around 9:45 and we cleaned him up, washed his carrier, and fed and watered him again. The Little Girl's grandfather went to pick her up and The Girl and I got busy to surprise her. We hid the carrier so she would not be tipped off (she is an extremely bright, beautiful, and perceptive little girl). The Girl found a box just the right size for the kitten and as we saw them turn the corner, placed him inside it. The Girl had already told her that we had a surprise for her when she got home, but not what it was.
Here is The Girl trying him out for size in the box.
Here are a couple of other pictures of him.
Both The Girl and I had a bit of concern that The Little Girl would be reminded of Jace and be sad with a new kitten, but we both know her pretty well and agreed that the chances of that were small and the chances of her being delighted were large, so we gave him to her. The Girl made it very clear to her that the kitten was from both of us, not just from her mother. This was the result, about five seconds after she opened the box.
Seeing such a look of delight happened twice to me, once Monday afternoon and again Tuesday morning, because The Girl also had a similar expression when we first got the kitten. It does my heart good to know that I was responsible, in some small way, for both of those looks.
The Little Girl played with him for a long time, and we helped her feed and water him. When he put his feet in the food bowl, like the picture of Jace above, this morning The Girl just about lost it, being so reminded of Jace. She has a charming, childlike (NOT childish) outlook at many things which I find wonderful. Those of you who read my pieces know that I in very many ways also have such a childlike outlook. I hope that I never grow up completely, because to lose that childlike sense of wonder at things would destroy who I am.
We spent the rest of the day together, until around 4:00 PM when I had to go, the three of us. Those two played in the little blow up pool when the kitten went to sleep, and seeing the two of them splash each other, squeal with enjoyment, and just have a wonderful time was very uplifting. Several times when The Little Girl was playing with the kitten, whom she has started calling Jace, we would look at each other and one or the other of us would say to the other, "We did a good thing today."
And we did.
This is a bit more emotional piece than I generally write in this space, but as I said earlier it has ties back to my childhood. I have lost pets before, and I grieved. My parents did what they could to assist me, but they could only do so much. The Little Girl is still too little to understand exactly what has happened, the The Girl took it really hard. I think that the time that she and I spent together grieving and laughing at the funny memories of Jace deepened our understanding of each other, and we strengthened a bond that we have had for a long time. I do not remember exactly what I did on Monday, just some little act of kindness to her that did not involve any cat, but she looked at me and said, "I can always count on you to be there for me and to help me."
And she can.
I better stop now before I get way too mushy. I am very sad that Jace was killed, and I got a lot of joy from him. He was special. But I am also very happy that my best friend and her little girl have some joy in their hearts because of the kitten. It makes me happy to see them happy.
As always, please comment often and verbosely about your experiences about growing up, whether or not you grew up in a small town. I know that I enjoy reading your contributions, and those comments in turn get others to comment. I like to think of this as sort of an open forum where we can talk about childhood and teen year experiences. This time they just were not MY childhood and teen experiences, but I shared coequally those of the two of them. It did bring back memories, bittersweet ones.
Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith